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Housebreaking (Potty Training) For Puppies and Adult Dogs

By Michele Welton, Dog Trainer, Breed Selection Consultant, Author of 15 Dog Books

Housebreaking or potty training puppies and adult dogs

When you're frustrated with your dog about potty training problems, he can tell!

If owners could choose only one skill they wanted their dog to have, HOUSEBROKEN would probably be the winner.

Housebreaking problems are a chief complaint of dog owners who contact me for behavioral consulting.

Who is happy with a dog who's peeing or pooping in the house?

This is what I tell dog owners who are looking for housebreaking advice:

There are two rules for housetraining. Just two, but you have to get them both right. And I mean 100% right, not 50% right. Otherwise you're going to end up with a dog who is 50% housebroken, and who wants that?

So here they are....my two Golden Rules for housebreaking:

Rule #1. Confinement – so your pup can't go to the bathroom in the wrong place.

Confinement means that until your pup is completely housebroken, he is NEVER allowed to walk freely around the house.

You can confine your pup in a crate, a pen, or by using baby gates to section off a small space (mud room, laundry room, kitchen).

He needs to stay in this space every minute of every hour of every day – unless you're sitting with him, playing with him, walking him, feeding him, grooming him, teaching him, or otherwise interacting with him.

This is hard for most people, I know. It's so tempting to let the puppy loose to run and play while you watch TV or fix dinner.

But if you let a non-housebroken puppy (or adult dog) loose in the house when you're doing something else, even if you promise yourself that you'll "watch" him, he can go to the bathroom MUCH more quickly than you can stop him – and the bad habit is begun.

Rule #2. Regular or constant access to the RIGHT place to go.

dog asking to go outYou have three options here:

1)  Take your pup outside every 2-3 hours.

2)  Or install a doggy door so he can take himself outside into an enclosed "potty yard." (Don't do this if you're not home, else he might stay outside and drive your neighbors crazy with his barking.)

3)  Or provide an indoor bathroom such as newspapers or (for very small dogs) a litter box.

Your dog must have SOMEWHERE accessible so he can "go" when he needs to go. Otherwise he will "go" wherever he happens to be at the time.... what else can he do, right? It's not his fault.


Housebreaking success or failure is up to you

  • If you arrange things so that the only place your pup has a chance to "go" is where you want him to go, that's the habit he will develop.
  • But if you give him too much freedom in the house, or if you don't give him quick access to a bathroom when he needs to go, that's the habit he will develop.

Now, I've made it seem quick and easy to housebreak your pup. Just two simple rules. One, two, and done!

Except for the details.

  • For example, when you take your pup outside to go to the bathroom, do you keep him on a leash or let him loose? What should you do if he just wants to play and refuses to "go"? Do puppies eliminate more readily if you take them for a walk?
  • How do you teach a pup to use a doggy door to take himself out?
  • What is the best kind of litter box (and litter) for small dogs?
  • What if your pup keeps soiling his crate or pen?
  • How long can a pup reasonably be expected to "hold it" during the day and during the night?
  • When your dog is beginning to catch on to the idea of housebreaking, when do you relax your strict confinement rules? And HOW do you relax them? You can't go from complete confinement to complete freedom. Transitions matter – a lot.

I can guide you through the transitions, as well as show you different techniques for crate training, keeping your pup in a small indoor pen, newspaper training, litter box training, and doggy door training. There are some right ways – and lots of wrong ways – to teach these housebreaking methods!


Puppy training book by Michele WeltonOne final note: housebreaking is far easier when your pup respects what you say. My puppy training book not only provides proven housebreaking programs, but also shows you how to get your puppy to respect you.

Follow my step-by-step housebreaking advice in Respect Training for Puppies: 30 Seconds to a Calm, Polite, Well-Behaved Puppy you will have a properly housebroken and respectful puppy.

Your pup is older than 18 months, check out Respect Training for Adult Dogs instead. The same step by step housetraining methods are included!

Michele Welton with BuffyAbout the author: Michele Welton has over 40 years of experience as a Dog Trainer, Dog Breed Consultant, and founder of three Dog Training Centers. An expert researcher and author of 15 books about dogs, she loves helping people choose, train, and care for their dogs.

Check out my other articles on dog training

Dog Training – What Works, and What Doesn't

Teach Your Dog To Respect You (Respect Training)

These Dog Training Videos Turned Buddy Into a Good Dog

Teach the Right Words In The Right Ways

Solving Dog Behavior Problems

You Need Dog Training Help.... But From Where?

Puppy Training Schedule

Socializing Your Dog To Get Along With The World


To help you train and care for your dog

dog training videos Dog training videos. Sometimes it's easier to train your puppy (or adult dog) when you can see the correct training techniques in action.

The problem is that most dog training videos on the internet are worthless, because they use the wrong training method. I recommend these dog training videos that are based on respect and leadership.

book coverRespect Training For Puppies: 30 seconds to a calm, polite, well-behaved puppy. For puppies 2 to 18 months old. Your puppy will learn the 21 skills that all family dogs need to know.
If your dog is over 18 months, you'll want book coverRespect Training For Adult Dogs: 30 seconds to a calm, polite, well-behaved dog. Again your dog will learn the 21 skills that all family dogs need to know.
book coverTeach Your Dog 100 English Words is a unique Vocabulary and Respect Training Program that will teach your adult dog to listen to you and do what you say.
book cover11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy helps your dog live a longer, healthier life.
book coverDog Quest: Find The Dog Of Your Dreams will help you find a good-tempered, healthy family companion.